Are you superstitious? Do you worry about walking under a ladder? Do you believe in being jinxed? I always considered myself to be the consummate scientist, logical, skeptical. Immune to rank superstition! Mr. Spock would be proud. Then I found out that I was afflicted with a travel jinx.
Like many people, I have dreamed of traveling. Sunny shores, warm, calm seas, trouble free days… yes, trouble free. None of these travel dreams ever mention trouble do they? Oh sure, there are funny movies about troubles while traveling. Think of the Chevy Chase "Vacation" series, troubles yes, but they are always funny troubles and the troubles are always solved.
For me, the travel dream was Hawaii. I had visions of drinking mai tais out of hollowed out pineapples, warm sun, gentle surf. On the other hand, my Fearless Wife dreamed of being rescued by Tom Selleck in his Magnum PI guise. Of course that TV series took place on Oahu so I booked our trip to the big island of Hawaii. Heh, heh, he who controls the keyboard, controls the itineraryJ Besides; I wanted to see the volcanoes. I started out life as a geologist and it was about time to see the red rock in motion. The other reason was the weather. This had been the winter of Snowmaggedon. I wanted a change so I booked on the Kona coast, Hawaii's desert, and home of the original Iron Man Triathlon. Less rain here than any place on any of the islands, more sun too. After a cold, gloomy winter, lot's of sun was sounding good.
To prepare for the trip, I bought snorkeling gear and taught myself to swim with it. I practiced in the Club pool and started to get into shape. I made lists. I packed and repacked. I had a dandy selection of waterproof sunscreen on the advice of several friends who warned about back of the leg sunburns due to swimming in the tropical seas around the islands. There were a few glitches getting packed and ready, but I attributed them to my inexperience, not a Travel Jinx.
For instance, I had used the air-mile points on my credit card to book a flight. Of course, the company looks for the cheapest flights possible, meaning multiple legs to fill empty spots. Seattle to Portland to LAX to Kona takes a long time, especially when LAX involves a looooong layover. On the other hand, time spent in LAX is like being stranded in a very poor third world country so it really qualifies as a foreign adventure! It's a real disconnect though to look out the dirty windows in the terminal and see the famous Hollywood sign on the distant hill. 12 hours after we started, we finally landed at Kailua International and walked out into a warm tropical sunset. Little did we know that it was the last of the sun that we would see for many days.
The next day it was cloudy but still warm by NW standards (above 60). The natives were shivering but we took the rental car out and hit the roads. We did the tourist things, hiked, looked, and swam. I made friends with the sea turtles in a small park where we went snorkeling. I discovered that a properly made My Tai has enough fresh fruit in it to qualify as a meal and so is healthyJ We also dodged showers but again, it was warm and the up side of all the clouds was that I didn't need to worry about sunburn. The sunscreen went unused. I still didn't think of it as a jinx yet but that was quickly coming.
Now how many of you have heard of Madam Pele? She is the Hawaiian deity who is personified by the volcano and a powerful and vindictive goddess. It is wise not cross her. According to legend, she appears as a beautiful young woman near the volcano but as an old lady near the shore. One must always address old women respectfully near the shore because you never know who your talking to and you sure as hell don't want to piss off a deity with a bad attitude and the ability to do something about it. At least that's how the stories go. Old ladies of course tell these stories. How convenient. Pass on the tribal culture and get a little respect all at the same time.
Another story that is even used by the National Parks is that Pele jealously guards her island and curses anyone who takes even the smallest sample home. A ranger with a straight face told us this and recounted stories of visitors mailing boxes of rocks back from Kansas after bad luck befell them when they got home. OK, I know you're not supposed to take samples from National Parks but resorting to rank superstition? Really! A simple sign instructing us to leave nature in place would seem to be adequate.
One night, my Fearless Wife and I are filling out the day's quota of postcards. We love to send cards and have a list of friends that get regular samples. My wife likes the old classic scenic ones. I look for local humor. Jackalopes and giant trout on log trucks are more my style. If I can't find humor, then I'll make it up. I was writing a card to a friend who is a geology major at WWU. She'd wanted a sample of lava and I had promised one though I had joked with her about Pele's curse and told her that it might be bad luck for both of us.
I decided to write a shaggy dog story and string it on for several cards. On her first card I told her that I had her rocks but that the car had a flat but not to worry, we were back and all was well. In card #2, her samples were safe in the trunk but the rental car had completely broken down and I sprained an ankle trying to hike out of the isolated area we were in. Another day later recounted a steadily escalating litany of disasters and on card #4 the microwave right above the counter where her lava samples were allegedly sitting catches fire and almost burns down the condo we are in! Of course my wife and I are chuckling over these small pieces of fiction as we send them out. After #4 goes out I decide that my buddy really deserves a sample so I go down to the yard and pick out a couple small chunks of basaltic lava. I set them in the middle of the table and my Fearless Wife arranges a lei around them to 'protect us from evil curses' and we laugh and head out for another day snorkeling in the rain in the nearby park.
At the park, the surf was up a bit though and it was difficult to get in the water and get the fins on. I was still a bit awkward with this because I hadn't practiced getting fins off and on in the water. I tried to put them on while on shore but walking through the small surf, even walking backwards felt like an accident waiting to happen. To make things even more interesting there was a ton of kids boogie boarding. A boogie board is a much-shortened version of a surfboard and is meant to be laid on in small surf. They seem to have no directional control and the helpful advice of the kids to anyone in the way was "Look out dude!" I was a large, slowly moving target and felt like I'd stumbled into a swarm of aquatic suicidal bees, as every wave seemed to have a crest of manic spongers (a surfers derogatory name for boogie boarders) aimed right at me! I kept trying to get fins and mask on and every time I'd get one in place, I'd get knocked back by a wave or have to dodge another crazed sponger. I kept thinking about Pele's curse but dismissively. What I was experiencing was simply too many kids and too much wave action. I finally decided to head in to shallower water and sit and put the fins on. I turned and was waist deep when I heard a yell from some kids off to the sides. I then committed the sin of "not keeping an eye on the Ocean"! I turned my back to the waves and headed to shore but a sudden noise made me look over my shoulder. A wave that had been shoulder high had suddenly reared up above my head and was poised to break right on top of me. I wasn't worried. It was what, a three foot wave top to bottom?
Boom! It broke on me and the next thing I knew I was driven into the bottom and dumped into the spin cycle. I dropped my fins and my mask was ripped off my face. I stood up as soon as I was able and started looking for my lost gear. The water was all foam and sand so nothing showed at first but suddenly a fin tumbled up a few feet ahead of me. Now I know why the gear is all fluorescent colors! Heading for it, I stepped on the other fin and soon had both in hand. But not the mask! My $150 mask with corrective lenses was clear, no color and even though I searched for 30 minutes and even went back the next day, it was trully lost.
OK, maybe Pele's curse is just superstition but driving back to the condo, I made a decision, I went in, grabbed the lava and a bottle of gin and went back to the yard where the samples came from and carefully placed them back on the ground. Then, out loud, not caring who heard, I apologized to Pele for taking a piece of her island and then I poured some gin around the rocks. Madame Pele is supposed to be quite fond of gin. It was only a start. Pele still wasn't satisfied and she had one more test to see if I was truly worthy.
That night, I was restless. 2AM and I'm suddenly wide awake. I could sit in the living room and read but I can do that at home so I decided to take a tropical night walk instead. The condo was across the street from the shore and I could still hear the waves breaking on the rocks. I walked out in shorts and one of my Hawaiian shirts and headed for a small park with beach access a half a block away. As I reached the middle of the road I saw a small child cross towards the rocky shore just up the street. I was surprised at this considering the hour and even more surprised when she, I could now see that she was a small girl, came out of the brush by the shore and seemed confused. I started ambling down to see if she was lost or in trouble.
As I approached I said "Hi" from a ways away so that I wouldn't startle her. She turned and I could see that instead of a young girl, she was a very short, very slender, very old Asian woman. I asked if she needed help and she replied, "I have a doctors appointment I have to get to."
It was 2:30AM by now. "Where is your doctors office? There's only ocean the way you were going."
She gave me the name of a street a block down but the address was a mile up the hill. She seemed confused so I asked her name and she replied "Mrs. Lee"
"Mrs. Lee, I have a car back at the condo, why don't you sit on that bench across the street and I'll go get it."
I escorted her to the bench in front of a closed up dive shop and I asked again if she would wait and made sure that she was comfortable. She was tired from her previous walk. I kept her talking and found out that she was a retired public health RN. As near as I could tell, she had walked well over two miles trying to keep an appointment that was for the middle of the next day. She promised me that she would wait for me and I hustled back and instead of the car, picked up my cell phone and dialed 911 and asked for EMT's to meet me. When I got back to Mrs. Lee she asked about the car but I told her that I had called some "friends" instead. Within 5 minutes my friends showed up in their big red and white van and they started talking to Mrs. Lee. One of the EMT's even knew her. She had indeed been a nurse, and a well respected one at that, when he was a young boy. They respectfully asked her to sit with them in the ambulance and told me that they would see that she got home to her family. I went over and wished her good night and told her that I was happy to meet her and they drove away.
As I walked back towards the condo I remembered what the old Hawaiian women say about Pele: a beautiful young woman in the mountains but an old woman by the shore. I laughed, "Mrs. Lee my achin' back! That was Pele testing me."
Silly superstition? Maybe but the next day, the sun came out and it stayed out every day for the rest of the trip. Even going home the good luck lasted. We transferred to a cramped 737 at LAX for the final leg home and sitting in 2 of the 3 seats in our row, we looked down the aisle and wondered who our row mate would be for the crowded flight. In walks the UW basketball team fresh from a game with UCLA. They all have to duck just to clear the ceiling and on top of that they are big! I have visions of a 6'3", 230# point guard trying to occupy the small space that a window seat allows. The team comes down the aisle looking at tickets and seat numbers. One sits in front of us, one behind. They keep coming and still no one in the window seat next to us. There are only two hulking giants left in the aisle and as they approach us, I know that we are doomed. They draw abreast of us and suddenly, a small clear voice from between the giants calls the number of our row and Pele be praised! A tiny Asian coed headed back to Seattle appears from between the players and points at the window seat with a smile. Our flight back would not be crowded.
OK, so silly superstition? Maybe, but I was glad that I put those rocks back and glad that I'd passed the test the next night with Mrs. Lee. Of course the travel jinx wasn't over yet but at least this trip ended better than it began.
(To be continued)
- The Old Squid